BERRY PICKIN’

Yesterday, I picked our blueberry bushes using my usual method—one for the mouth, one for the bowl, one for the mouth, one for …well, you understand. Also, as usual when out in nature, I fell into a contemplative mood.

I thought about how the birds had eaten their fair share of this summer’s blueberry production, even though Neal had erected blueberry cages. I knew the greedy birds had had their fill because I got one of the bandits, a teensy goldfinch, who upon seeing me, tried his darndest to escape the net. It was clear he’d forgotten the way and he was having a panic attack. He had gotten inside the cage because there was a fraction of an opening at the bottom but surprised by my arrival, he couldn’t find it directly. Since he was so absolutely cute, I did the only thing I could do. I unzipped the cage and he located open sky and flew.

I imagined the birds, already devouring what they wished, telling each other, “Now, leave something for the humans. Don’t eat ALL the berries!”

Or maybe they’d left some because they, like small planes, had to consider weight distribution before taking off.

As I picked, I thought about the Eastern Oregon equivalent of blueberries, the mighty and supreme huckleberry. Huckleberries are so coveted that families have their own maps of patches known only to them and them pass them down from parents to children. While cleaning out my files recently, I came across the one my father had drawn for me in order to reach a Mt. Adams patch.

Legends have been written about the huckleberry and its scarcity makes it even more special to those of us who tracked patches of it every summer, stripping the bushes for our jams, syrups, ice creams, and eating it right from the hand. I can taste that sweet tartness even now.

When we lived in Rockaway, we were blessed with Western Oregon huckleberry bushes which I protected from deer, bear, and humans. One patch grew near the mailboxes we shared with our neighbor, right along our property lines. I waited and waited for the berries to turn from red to plum-colored, checking every day as I picked up our bills, catalogs, and correspondence. One day I saw they would be ready the next day, and got my bowl prepared to pick right after the mail came. When the little white van had turned around and gone back down the hill, I went to the mailbox, only to find our neighbor, transplanted from urban life to coastal dwelling, had sheared the bushes he found lumpy and misshapen into a long, square hedge. I cried.

Then I thought about the greatest huckleberry picker of all, the grand poobah wizard, my grandma. Dad would hear via the huckleberry vine the patches were ready and tell us to be ready bright and early. Grandma would arrive in her Fiat, jump into our Chevy stationwagon, and off we’d go, armed with the picnic lunch Mom had prepared, and our buckets fashioned from old MJB coffee cans or gallon shortening cans. I liked the shortening cans best because the handles were crafted and there were no sharp edges, unlike the MJB cans with their rusty wire handles and sharp tops. We’d start at the top of a hill and bush by bush, slide down. We’d get sticky and sweaty and were plagued by crawling and flying bugs. Still we picked and when we grew tired of picking our grandmother first shamed us by showing us how full her bucket was, reminding us she was an old lady we surely could beat, and then she told us stories of her youth, or sang songs she’d grown up with. The latter always encouraged us to pick faster as she did not carry a tune as well as her bucket. By the time we got to the bottom of the hill, our mouths were purple and our buckets full.

Picking my own blueberries now, I thought of those huckleberry picking days, quietly sang a few lines from her songs, and before I knew it, I had my bowl full of berries ready to be processed.

Lots of us grew up in gardens or the outdoors and that’s why we are there now as adults; that’s why we encourage our kids and grandchildren, and heck, everyone we know, to get out in the garden, out in Nature herself, with others. That’s where the best learning, bonding, and wonderful fond memories occur.

 

UPON OPENING THE FRONT DOOR

UPON OPENING THE FRONT DOOR

 

“The flowers appear on the earth

The time for singing has come!”—Song of Songs 2:12

 

May has been the month of departures and new arrivals up our front sidewalk. This flurry of activity similar to the hustle-bustle of an airport gateway has given us a reason to open the front door every morning. Instead of ringing our doorbell, the flowers wait to surprise us. They don’t say good-bye, either, but leave quietly, fading into the soil, homeward bound.

Desiccated leaves and stalks are all that’s left aboveground of the red and yellow tulips opening wide as they die, displaying stamens. The daffodils have turned into elongated heads at the end of their stalks. Their leaves, losing chlorophyll, yellow and droop over the short fence as they feed the bulbs.

One Friday night the irises were still pointy buds the shape of miniature mummies, tightly wrapped in parchment sarcophoguses. The next Saturday morning when we opened the front door, there they were, royal purple, pale lavender, and yellow blossoms fluttering in the breeze, triangular centers blazing their arrival. Their delicate fragrance scented the morning breeze.

Just as the iris flowers withered, the pink and maroon peonies transformed from shy, corseted buds into puffy petticoats of scent, buffeted by the breeze.

Day before yesterday, at the opening of the door, I spied two lily flowers, with sisters on down each stem ready to join us soon, splashing their scarlet finery. The rest of the lilies in the flowerbed will arrive at any moment.

Behind them are the lavender, now setting on their flowers, and the penstemon, gearing up for five-stamen production.

Today the jasmine climbing the trellis by the front door broke into tiny trumpet-shaped blooms, releasing its signature perfume.

These flowers feel like family members who hug when they say hello, or the old-time Welcome Wagon, bearing a cheeriness that ushers us from where we’ve been to where we’re going, from the short days of rain-filled spring into the charms of sunny (and sometimes still rain-filled) summer, harbingers of Nature’s beauty yet to come. All we have to do is open the front door.

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THE WILSON

THE WILSON

Green as an alligator

the Wilson River

chomps whatever stands

in its swollen path.

Trees bow down,

a kind of surrender,

in the wake of

these mighty jaws.

Kayaks bob along

from scaly bump

to scaly bump.

Bridges quake

at the thwack of its tail,

waters rushing at

their abutments.

This is no placid swamp,

no stagnant pond.

No, this green monster

thrashes headlong

creating its own purpose,

mashing whatever

appears in its path,

emptying its gullet

into the sea.

 

2009 award[#TheWilsonRiver]

Home Grown Thanksgiving

Bountiful Table
Bountiful Table

As my family—my sister, my mother, and my husband–made way to eat Thanksgiving dinner, my sister Anita surveyed the table and said, “Wow! Just look. Most of everything here we either grew, canned, or froze. That’s awesome!”

And true. She grew the potatoes she mashed and the green beans. She grew the butternut squash she candied. She didn’t make the marshmallows, but maybe next year. The turkey and gravy were not grown by us, it’s true. However, when I was in the 7th grade, my mother grew turkeys on our farm, so that year, we could definitely say we grew the turkey we ate. That was the only year we could say that, though, because the turkeys were so stupid and time-consuming they about did my mother in, so she went on to focus on chickens, who at least have a brain.

The gravy came from McCormick’s, gluten-free, and we hadn’t grown the kinds of plants used to assemble the gravy mix. Give my sister time, okay?

The anti-pasto plate was yummy and due to our joint summertime efforts. My sister grew the cucumbers she pickled. We grew the green beans, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers and peppers for the vegetable mixture I pickled. The apples I wedged and candied came from our apple trees. My sister grew the beets she pickled. The olives, bless their finger-tipping hearts, my sister withdrew from a can she opened and drained. She could have planted an olive tree, picked and preserved her own olives, mind you, but alas, she’s allergic to olive trees.

All of us have grown the carrots, cauliflower, and cucumber sticks on the appetizer plate.

My sister grew the loganberries, blackberries, raspberries, and marionberries in the berry delight for dessert. She bought the ice cream, but in the past we’ve milked the cow, separated the milk, and churned the ice cream. My sister Susie still makes ice cream the good, old-fashioned way, by hand. It’s one reason I will drive eight hours to visit her in the summer.

At the head of the table sat the major reason my sisters and I know how to do all this—our mother. Looking at our well-provisioned table, we were all grateful for what our parents passed on to us.

Growing up, my siblings and I learned from our father and mother how to grow, can, and preserve. My husband learned from his parents as well. I say we were lucky to have grown up in rural areas where people could live off the land and have the foresight to teach their offspring how to do the same. My sisters and I have never forgotten the lessons we learned and when we are able, we provide for ourselves. It warms my heart that many of my young friends are discovering anew these skills, if not from their elders, then from 4-H classes, the Extension Service, and from each other. They are making sure their children learn the skills as well, especially since many schools have opted out of teaching the home skills.

Self-sufficiency feels good, especially when you know that what you’ve grown is organic, without harmful chemicals, and truly tasty. Besides, you’ve kept in better shape working for it! Our whole neighborhood shares produce, techniques, recipes, and canned goods. Nothing better than that!

This Thanksgiving, among other things, I was grateful for the bounty at our table, the family members seated around it, especially our mother, and for the lessons we’ve learned and put into action.